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Hammond organ

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The Hammond organ is an electric organ which was designed and built by Laurens Hammond around 1934. While the Hammond organ was originally sold to churches as a lower-cost alternative to the pipe organ, it came to be used for jazz, blues, and then to a greater extent in rock music (in the 1960s and 1970s) and gospel music.

Hammond organ.
Hammond organ.


In January 1934 Laurens Hammond, an American engineer and inventor, filed a US patent (number 1,956,359) for a new type of 'electrical musical instrument'. The invention was unveiled to the public in April 1935, and the first model, the Model A, was available from June of the same year. A number of models were developed over the next twenty years, but none are were as well-known and widely used as the models that came out in 1955: the B-3 and C-3 models. Along with the A-100, produced in 1959, this trio of Hammond Organs all share similar sound-producing mechanics inside slightly different shells. Over the five decades since these classic organs were originally sold, Hammond Organs have undergone many changes to the original design, both cosmetically and in their tone generation methods.


Laurens Hammond had intended the organ to be a substitute for Pipe organs, a replacment for the Piano in Middle-Class homes and for use by Radio Stations, for the first few years this was what happened but by the 1950's Jazz musicians began to use the organs distinctive sound. in the 1960's the Hammond became popular with Pop groups and was used on the pirate Radio Station Radio 390. in Britain the Organ got a bad name for itself after being used as Elevator Music, on re-recordings of Popular songs and in Badly thought out locations such as Ice Rinks.

Tone generation

Tonewheel rotates beneath electromagnetic pickup.
Tonewheel rotates beneath electromagnetic pickup.

Additive synthesis

The original Hammond organ imitated the function of a pipe organ's banks of pipes in multiple registers by using additive synthesis of waveforms from harmonic series to generate its sounds. As in Thaddeus Cahill's earlier Telharmonium, the Hammond organ's individual waveforms were made by mechanical tonewheels which rotated beneath electromagnetic pickups. Although they are generally included in the category of electronic organs, original Hammond organs are, strictly speaking, electric or electromechanical rather than electronic organs because the waveforms are produced by mechanical tonewheels rather than electronic oscillators.



The component waveforms can be mixed in varying ratios by using drawbars mounted above the two keyboards. The drawbars are small sliding bars with knobs that are literally drawn and pulled toward the organ's console. They operate like the faders on an audio mixing board, allowing the performer to vary the volume of each note's fundamental tone, the octave below it, and some of the octaves and harmonics above it. The player can modify their settings in real-time, that is, while playing a song. The resulting combination creates a unique timbre. Famous organ players are often associated with particular combinations, so much so that they can become signatures. For example, Jimmy Smith was well known for using the combination 88800000.

Percussion and "Key Click"

Another facet of the distinctive sound of the Hammond is the harmonic percussion effect, in which the 2nd and 3rd harmonic tones can be added to the attack envelope of a note, individually or together. Those harmonics then quickly fade out leaving the tones which the player has selected using the drawbars. Older Hammond models such as those produced before the B-3 do not have the harmonic percussion feature.

Hammond organs have a distinctive percussive key click, which is the attack transient that occurs when all nine key contacts close, causing an audible pop or click. Originally, key click was considered to be a design defect and Hammond worked to eliminate or at least reduce it by using equalization filters. However, some performers liked the percussive effect, and it has become part of the classic sound that modern imitators of the Hammond organ have tried to reproduce.


The classic way of amplifying the sound of a Hammond Organ is to use a rotating speaker, known as a Leslie. Hammond originally marketed their own line of amplified speakers (called tone cabinets) which did not feature rotating speakers, but even though some well-known Hammond players used them, notably Jimmy Smith for a period, these speakers were much less popular than the rotating speakers made by the Leslie company.

Leslie speakers

Leslie speakers designed by Don Leslie have experienced wide use with the Hammond organs. Sound is emitted by a rotating horn over a stationary treble driver and a rotating baffle beneath a stationary bass woofer. The resulting sonic characteristics are likened to a small-scale Doppler effect, but were intended by Leslie to simply resemble the constantly shifting source of sound among a large group of pipe organ ranks. The rotation speed can be toggled by a console-based manual or pedal switch between fast or slow to provide tremolo or chorus effects, respectively. The Leslie speaker cabinet's tube (also known as valve) amplifier gave the Hammond's tone a warm, naturally overdriven sound, which could be varied from a mild purr to a heavy growl.

Other elements of the "Hammond sound"

Other features added to Hammond organs included an electromechanical vibrato and, by the late 1950s, a "spring reverb" effect which simulated the reverberation of a large church hall.

Keyboards and pedalboard

The lightweight construction of the waterfall-style keyboard for the upper manuals allows for very rapid passages to be executed with more ease than on a weighted keyboard, such as a piano or pipe organ. The shape of the keys makes effects such as palm glissandos possible.

Hammond organs do not generally have a full, 32-note American Guild of Organists pedalboard going up to a G (3rd leger line of the bass clef) as the top note (for more information, see AGO pedalboard). Instead, to reduce the cost of the instrument, or the size of the bass pedalboard, 25-note (with a C on the 1st leger line of the bass clef as the top note) or 30-note (with an F on the 2nd leger line of the bass clef as the top note) bass pedalboards are often used. Several Hammond "concert" models, the RT-2, RT-3 and D-100 had 32-note AGO pedalboards, in addition to a "Solo Pedal Unit" which provided several 32', 16', 8', 4' voices on the pedal. The solo pedal unit used oscillators, similar to those used in Hammond's "Solovox."

Types of Hammond organs

Classic Hammond B-3 organ.
Classic Hammond B-3 organ.

The model B-3 was - and remains - the most popular Hammond model amongst musicians. The C-3 and A-100 models are similiarly popular, as they have same internals in different cabinets. In addition, the A-100 has built-in speakers. In categorizing Hammond organ types it is useful to divide them by the way their sound generation mechanisms; the three categories are electromechanical, electronic, or both. Tonewheel organs use a series of toothed wheels which spin near an electromagenetic pickup to generate sound. Electronic tone generation uses solid state oscillator circuits.

Hammond tonewheel organs can be divided into two main groups: the 'Console' models such as the A, B, C, and R series which have two 61 note manuals and the smaller 'Spinet' models that have two 44 note manuals such as the M, L, and T series. The production of tonewheel organs stopped in the early to mid 1970s. Hammond organs made after this time use electronic tone generation. Examples of these organs are the J/K/N series, the Hammond Aurora, and the Hammond Concorde.

Hammond tonewheel organs are preferred among most enthusiasts, the most popular models also having tube amplifiers. Some of the later Hammond models combine tonewheel generation with solid state amplifiers, with the latest models of that era being fully solid state. Hammond is now owned by Suzuki Company. Hammond-Suzuki now makes organs using digital technology that very closely replicate the tonewheel organ sound. (See "Clones" below)

The B-3

The Hammond B-3 organ is the most famous of the Hammond Organs. While it was originally produced to be a portable alternative to permanently-installed types of church organs, it was widely used in non-church settings. In the first decades after its introduction, the B-3 was used as a theatre organ, to provide live music between feature films or perform music at ice rinks. In the 1950s and 1960s, the B-3 was used in jazz bands and in organ trios, such as Jimmy Smith's organ trio. In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, the B-3 was widely used in rock bands ranging from latin-rock groups such as Santana to progressive rock groups such as Yes and Pink Floyd, to blues-rock groups such as Led Zeppelin.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the B-3 continued to be used by bands from a range of styles, including rock, hard rock, jazz, blues, and "jam" bands. This organ was also a favorite of renowned Grateful Dead keyboard player Brent Mydland. In the 1980s and 1990s, lightweight "clone" organs that imitated the sound were increasingly used to substitute for the B-3, especially in live touring settings. In the 2000s, some organ trios such the Ken Clark organ trio still perform with vintage B-3 organs.

The 'New B-3'

2002 Hammond New B-3 organ (portable version).
2002 Hammond New B-3 organ (portable version).

In 2002, the Hammond company (now known as Hammond-Suzuki) relaunched the B-3 as the 'New B-3', a recreation of the original electromechanical instrument using modern-day electronics and a modern sound generator system. The New B-3 is constructed to appear like the original B-3, and the designers attempted to retain the subtle nuances of the familiar B-3 sound. Hammond Suzuki argues that it would be difficult for even an experienced B-3 player to distinguish between the old and new B-3 organs. Hugh Robjohns' review in the recording magazine 'Sound on Sound' states that "I don't think there can be any doubt that the New B-3 is a true replica of an original B-3 both in terms of the look and layout, and the actual sound. I honestly don't believe anyone could tell the new instrument apart from an original if it was set up appropriately."

The New B-3 was used by well-known B-3 players such as Jimmy Smith and Joey DeFrancesco, who both played a New B-3 on the collaborative album 'Legacy' released in 2005 shortly before Jimmy's death. Hammond-Suzuki went on to release a portable version of the New B-3 (pictured) as well as a new version of the C-3 model.

Currently, there are numerous B-3 "clones" on the market, from full-size, dual keyboard behemoths with real Leslie cabinets from Hammond/Suzuki, to inexpensive Casio WK series home keyboards that actually have a "tonewheel organ" function built in, to allow the user to simulate changing drawbars "on the fly." In between are numerous models, most of them excellent, from Hammond, Korg, Roland, Nord, and virtual synths- notably the B4 by Native Instruments- computer simulations of every B-3 nuance down to key click, leakage of tonewheels, dirty contacts, type of tubes- just about any variable can be accommodated, though many aficionados consider them (whether rightly or wrongly) inferior to a real Hammond.

Playing the Hammond organ

Pianists and synthesizer players who begin playing the Hammond soon realize that authentic performance practice involves a lot more than playing the notes on the keyboard. Hammond players vary the timbre of both manuals in real time through a combination of changing drawbar settings, engaging or disengaging the vibrato and chorus effects or percussion settings, and changing the rotating Leslie speaker system's speed setting. As well, performers obtain other effects by setting the Leslie's amplifier to maximum output (and controlling the effective volume using only the organ's volume pedal) to add overdriven distortion or growl for certain passages, or by briefly switching off the organ's synchronous run motor, which produces a wobbly pitch-bend effect.

There are playing styles that are specific to the Hammond organ, such as palm glissandos, rapid repetition of a single note, tremolo between two notes a third apart (typically the 5th and flat 7th scale degree of the current chord), percussive drumming of the keyboard, and playing a chord on the upper manual, then sliding your hand down to duplicate the chord on the lower manual. Artistic use of the foot-controlled volume pedal is an important facet of performing on the Hammond.

Bass Pedalboard

Tom Vickers notes that after Jimmy Smith popularized the Hammond organ in jazz, many jazz pianists ...who thought that getting organ-ized would be a snap... realized that the ... B-3 required not only a strong left hand, but killer coordination on those [bass] foot pedals to really get the bass groove percolating." [1] In the 1950s, the organist Wild Bill Davis told the then-aspiring organist Smith that it could take over a decade just to learn the bass pedals. Jazz organists such as Jimmy Smith developed the ability to perform fluent walking-bass lines on the bass pedals. Currently, jazz organists such as Ken Clark are able to perform fast-moving basslines on the bass pedalboard.

Many jazz organists from the 1950s/1960s era and from more recent decades perform the bassline with their left hand on the lower manual. Organists who play the bassline on the lower manual may do short taps on the bass pedals-often on the tonic of a tune's key-to simulate the low, resonant sound of a plucked upright bass string. Playing basslines on the manuals may make the bass lines more light and fluid than if they are played on the bass pedals, especially for uptempo tunes.


"Clones" and emulation devices

Due to the difficulties of transporting the heavy Hammond organ, bass pedalboard (a B-3 organ, bench and pedalboard weighs 425 pounds/193kg) and Leslie speaker cabinets to performance venues, and due to the risk of technical problems that are associated with any vintage electromechanical instrument, there was a strong demand amongst musicians for way of recreating the Hammond sound in a more portable, reliable fashion. Some early emulation devices were criticized for their unrealistic imitation of the Hammond sound, particularly in the way the upper harmonics were voiced, and in the simulation of the rotary speaker effect. Refinements to Hammond emulations eventually led to the development of relatively light electronic keyboard instruments such as the Roland VK-7 and the KORG BX-3 and CX-3 that produce a fairly realistic recreation of the Hammond tone.

By the 1990s and 2000s digital signal processing and sampling technologies allowed for better imitation of the original Hammond sound, and a variety of electronic organs, emulator devices, and synthesizers provided an accurate reproduction of the Hammond tone. Hammond Suzuki USA currently markets numerous home, church, and professional models that digitally reproduce the sound of vintage Hammond tonewheel organs.

Some sophisticated emulation devices have algorithms that recreate some of the characteristics of the vintage Hammonds, such as the "crosstalk" or "leakage" between the tonewheels, and digital simulations of the rotating Leslie speaker cabinet's sound. Nonetheless, an article entitled Clonewheel Heaven in Keyboard Magazine that reviewed electronic simulations of the traditional Hammond sound claimed that some aspects of the vintage electromechanical Hammonds' sound are not accurately reproduced by clones and emulation devices [2] .

Current interest in Hammond organs

Despite the availability of relatively lower-cost, reliable digital clones and emulation devices, there is still a strong interest in vintage Hammond organs. Even the difficulties of finding spare parts and trained repair personnel for such a complex vintage instrument have not dissuaded musicians from continuing to use Hammonds. Original electromechanical Hammond organs are prized by musicians from jazz, blues, rock, gospel, and other musical styles for the look and feel of their varnished wooden cabinets and waterfall-style keyboards, and their vintage, traditional sound. Although the last electromechanical Hammond organ came off the assembly line in the mid-1970s, it is a testament to their over-engineered design and high-caliber construction that thousands are still in daily use.

Miscellaneous Information

  • The Hammond Organ was widely used in United States military chapels during the Second World War, and returning soldiers' familiarity with the instrument may have helped contribute to its popularity in the post-war period.
  • The sound of the Hammond B-3 organ can be heard in 1960s surf music, where the spinning Leslie speaker created distinctive special effects.
  • The B-3 cabinet style is based on the original model A organ. The model A was for the home market, and was styled to resemble a writing desk, and to have roughly the same physical footprint as one. The B-3 cabinet is deeper than the original model A, due to the addition and later removal of the chorus generator (with model BC), but Hammond did not retool the cabinet depth.
  • The majority of full-size Hammond organs in the UK were C-3 models, hence the popularity of that model rather than the B-3 among British musicians.
  • Co-inventor of the ENIAC (digital computer), J. Presper Eckert was inspired by Hammond's Novachord (early analog synth) in its use of 170 tubes. He therefore concluded that they would be able to develop the circuits for the computer, which took 17,468 tubes.
  • On the first self-titled and the second Santana album entitled Abraxas (1969 and 1970 respectively), a B-3 and Leslie 122 played by Gregg Rolie can be clearly heard in rock and Latin formats on nearly every track.
  • In the 1980 album of rock group Journey titled Captured, which is a recording of a live concert, then singer Steve Perry is heard to refer to Hammond B-3 while introducing keyboardist Gregg Rolie in the track "Walks like a lady".
  • The Chicago song Flight 602 (by Bobby Lamm, from their 1971 release Chicago III) mentions "thinking of B-3's and Leslies goin' round".
  • The Hammond B-3 can be heard on the album "Robot Hive/Exodus" played by Mick Schauer of Clutch
  • The Hammond B-3 can be heard on Tori Amos' 2005 album The Beekeeper.
  • The Hammond C-3 essentially takes over the vocal lines on entire albums like Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Danger Money by UK.
  • On Deep Purple's Made in Japan, keyboard player Jon Lord starts the track Lazy with a lengthy solo on his Hammond Organ.
  • In one sketch by Monty Python's Flying Circus Terry Jones plays a mad king who spends his days making up bizarre songs on the Hammond Organ.
  • Dennis King of Carnival fame used a Hammond Organ for the group's distinctive sound. To this day the now retired King still collects Hammond Organs and related equipment
  • In the song Excentrifugal Forz, Frank Zappa mentions a "one-celled Hammond organism."
  • Keyboardist Derek Sherinian, a heavy B3 user, describes the sound of modern digital emulations as "the sound of a puckered..."


An informative book on the Hammond is The Hammond Organ: Beauty in the B, Mark Vail, pub Miller Freeman 1997. (238 pages) ISBN 0-87930-459-6.

  1. ^ Tom Vickers. Organ Grinder Swing. Available at:|lang_fr
  2. ^ Clonewheel Heaven 18 cool organ products take aim at the mighty Hammond B-3 and Leslie duo; Keyboard Magazine;

See also

  • List of jazz organists
  • List of Hammond organ players
  • Clonewheel organ
  • Organ trio

External links

  • Hammond/Leslie resource and home of the hammondzone user group
  • Drawbar Settings, Progressions, and Links
  • article on the Hammond Organ
  • History of the Hammond B-3 Organ
  • The HammondWiki
  • Captain Foldback (Hammond organ history, information on the different models of vintage Hammond organs, and technical data)
  • Drawbar Settings, Progressions, and Links
  • Article on the Hammond Organ
  • Description of Hammond Organ

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